February 22, 2019
On the Edge of Common Sense
Baxter Black, DVM
I was ugly when I was born. How ugly were you? I was so ugly they had to tie my mother's legs together so I could nurse. If you've ever grafted a calf you know just what I'm talkin' about.
Graftin' calves. An unnatural act. One of the more frustrating parts of calvin' season. You've got a good (or not so good) heifer who lost her calf to calvin' difficulty, scours, deep water, snow drifts, tractor tires, excitement, BVD or any of a million or two reasons that we could all name.
“First you stand in the pen with them and encourage the calf to suck. He tries, she kicks, you konk her with the shovel. On the poll is as good a place as any.”
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You figger to graft another calf in its place from one of your many sources: a twin, a dried up heifer, the sale barn, the local dairy, Walmart or one of those late night television commercials that offers a four-legged lizard to Guy-Ko you, tape you can plug your septic tank with, or the pillow man to personally come to your home to fluff you up.
I imagine since the time of Noah's Livestock Auction and Commission Company, peddlers have been offering magical solutions that you can sprinkle on the calf and the heifer's nose to mask the scent, different formulae abound; musk from a rutting beaver, compost drops, eucalyptus oil, limburger lotion or grizzly after shave. They all have one thing in common: they smell like two dead carp left in a Hefty trash bag on a warm Phoenix afternoon.
I've tried rubbing the graft with the new mother's afterbirth. I tried the ol' sheepherder trick of skinnin' the dead calf and tyin his hide around the new one. I admit that trick always makes me feel sorry for both calves. It certainly couldn't be too comfortable, not to mention it would take both of 'em right off the best dressed list.
My most effective method involved cow psychology. That's right … SHOVEL TRAINING! Hobble the heifer, pen her and the graft calf up for a few days and do it the hard way. First you stand in the pen with them and encourage the calf to suck. He tries, she kicks, you konk her with the shovel. On the poll is a good a place as any.
Eventually she will stand still and let him nurse. For the next few days you lean over the gate and wave the shovel when you want him to suck. Usually the heifer gives up and finally you can turn 'em both out.
I don't know how well this method works on mules, kangaroos or Holsteins but I'd recommend it fer yer good ol' run of the mill bally. ❖